If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

June Interviews

6/3 Gretchen Archer, Double Trouble
6/10 Kaye George, Deadly Sweet Tooth
6/17 Annette Dashofy, Til Death
6/24 Adam Meyer

Saturday Guest Bloggers

6/6 Mary Keliikoa
6/13 William Ade
6/20 Liz Milliron

WWK Bloggers:

6/27 Kait Carson
6/30 WWK Writers--What We're Reading Now


Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

WWK is proud of our four Agatha nominees. Kaye George for Best Short Story--not her first time to be nominated, Connie Berry and Grace Topping for Best First Mystery Novel, and Annette Dashofy for Best Contemporary Novel--her fifth nomination! All are winners but without Agatha Teapots. Onto 20121!

Look for Kaye George and Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Kaye's story is "Life and Death on the Road" and Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Kaye George's second novel in the Vintage Sweets mystery series, Deadly Sweet Tooth, was released on June 2. Look for the interview here on June 10.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Older Female Protagonists

by Paula Gail Benson

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to see Oceans Eight, the new heist film featuring Sandra Bullock (age 53), Cate Blanchett (49), Anne Hathaway (35), Mindy Kaling (38), Sarah Pauling (43), Awkwafina (29), Rihanna (30), and Helena Bonham Carter (52). [Note: ages according to Wikipedia.]

Part of the joy was that a friend and I were treated to dinner and the show by her son, who called ahead for reservations (I didn’t know one could do that at a movie theatre) and made us feel like royalty. It was a charmed evening of excellent food, conversation, and entertainment.

From the moment the film began, I was completely captivated. The plot and characters were intriguing; the organization and execution of the heist riveting. For the first time in a long time, I lost myself in the dramatic situation, forgetting about the outside world.

Then, right at the end of the film, and let me warn POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT, the purloined jewels are redistributed by the services of four distinguished actresses, each of whom may boast an exceptional career on screen and stage: Marlo Thomas (80), Mary Louise Wilson (86), Dana Ivey (76), and Elizabeth Ashley (78). These actresses appeared in cameo shots and had no lines. Their eyes flashed with enthusiasm and they looked stunning.

Seeing them took me out of the story for a moment as I wondered: would I watch a movie about those women carrying out a heist, and would anyone ever make that movie?

In fact, the weekend before, I had gone alone to see The Book Club, which showcased Jane Fonda (80), Dianne Keaton (72), Candice Bergen (72), and Mary Steenburgen (65). When the club members read 50 Shades of Grey, they begin making some changes in their personal romantic lives, all with unexpected and humorous repercussions. The movie was predictable, but enjoyable, especially seeing the talented actresses assembled for the cast.

Glenda Jackson (82) just won the Tony award for playing a 90-year-old character in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women on Broadway. Her co-star, Laurie Metcalf (63), also won a Tony. Brenda Blethen (72) plays a middle-aged detective in the British Crime series Vera and was celebrated as a guest of honor at this year’s Malice Domestic.

In January 2014, Fay Weldon wrote “Writers of a Certain Age” for the New York Times. She explained that while mature male characters retained reader and viewer attention, interest in female characters faded if they were older than their twenties or thirties. Weldon did hold out hope if a character could reach 80 and become “so old as to seem ageless, sexless as a sage, remarkable if not for youth, why, then, for extreme age, and again a salable proposition for publishers.”

Holly Robinson responded with “How Old Is Too Old for a Main Character?” in the Huffington Post. She wanted to refute Weldon’s premise, but when she pitched a novel about a character in her late fifties to her agent, she got a negative response. He told her, “Publishers don’t like older characters. You’d better start with the younger woman’s point of view.”

Growing up, I read about characters my own age, but when I reached high school and college, I found I preferred to read about older characters. The friendship between middle-aged Evelyn Couch and elderly Ninny Threadgoode in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes based on Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafĂ© is priceless to me. And, I wonder, what would the reading world be like without Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple?

Thanks to my blogging partners for the additional examples of characters portrayed by Helen Mirren (72), Judy Dench (83), and Maggie Smith (83), who as the Dowager Countess of Grantham had some of the best lines on Downton Abbey.

What do you think about older female protagonists, particularly in the mystery/thriller genres?


Annette said...

I saw The Book Club and loved the older women in spite of the so-so plot. And I really want to see Oceans 8!

The age issue is one that I'm currently pondering. My protagonist in my Zoe Chambers series is in her mid-thirties, but I surround her with a supporting cast of various ages. I confess, my favorite characters to write are the older ones. They can get away saying things the younger ones wouldn't dare.

I'm noodling with ideas for a stand-alone and am debating about this new protagonist's age. She'll definitely be older than Zoe. Forties? Fifties? The jury is still out.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Oceans 8 was terrific! Judi Dench, Helen Mirren (Red), and Maggie Smith still lead the pack of over-40 actresses. Maybe Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts could be included in Oceans 9.

Hank Phillippi Ryan told us at a writers workshop that her agent and editor expected female protagonists to be no older than 47. That's the age of my amateur sleuth.

I've written two short stories about an older woman on the run, living off the grid. She is a favorite character and I plan more adventures for her.

Grace Topping said...

As an older writer, my inclination is to write about someone my own age--but to get published today that just won't fly. So I had to make my MC much younger. Then I realized that my cultural references were a lot older. My agent asked me if I was trying to make my character old. Ouch! So when I might have referred to gowns as beautiful as those done by Edith Head, I changed it to someone more current. In the long run, publishers should take a look at who is plunking down money for mysteries--older women, who would love to read about characters their own age.

KM Rockwood said...

I hope we are reaching a point where women consumers, especially older women, are not invisible to the business people who make the decisions about what products to present for sale. This, of course, includes those in the publishing business!

Liz Milliron said...

I think older characters can have interesting view points. As Annette said, the filters are often off and they get to say some crazy things.

And when did Sandra Bullock get to be 53?


Warren Bull said...

There are, of course, classic sleuths who are older women, Miss Marple, Mrs. Polifax and Aunt Dimity who is both old and dead. I believe readers are interested in remarkable characters regardless of the characters' ages.

Gloria Alden said...

I agree with Warren on that. When my sister suggested we start writing a mystery, she wanted the main character to be in her late twenties. I worked on that for a while, but I wasn't comfortable with it so I switched Catherine Jewell to forty years old. Still younger than I am, but more easy to connect with those years than the 20s. I continued on with the book and all the following ones on my own. I'm lucky not to have an agent or publisher to tell me what works and won't. I'm self-published and still have a following who can't wait for my next book to come out.

I want to see The Book Club movie, too. I'm not sure if it's at a local theater near hear yet.

By the way, I'll be 80 years old in August and when I mention that to people I meet, they find that hard to believe. I think it's all how you view life as to how you look. I'm quite content with my life and rarely if ever get angry or feel let down by anything.

E. B. Davis said...

I love older female protagonists, but of course, I'm an older woman. I know young women read, but I think retirees read more. If I were a publisher, I wouldn't have any problems with older female protagonists--I doubt it would hurt sales.

Jim Jackson said...

It's a disgrace that we (societal we, not Writers Who Kill we) put such an emphasis on youth, especially as it applies to women. Really, if you haven't a goodly number of years on you, how can you be interesting? Oh, when young, you can get into interesting situations and learn, but it takes a lived in body (without botox) to show the wrinkles and scars you've earned.

She's not my protagonist, but I haven't met a reader yet who didn't enjoy Seamus's mother who in my current WIP is 78.

Kait said...

Older is better - Mrs. Polifax immediately sprang to mind - well, second - right after Miss Marple. Then there is well, there must be more. I really need to be better read! But now that you mention it - 22-38 does seem to be the sweet spot for women. Sad - they have so much to learn.

Women in film seem to much better. Perhaps because of the richness of facial expression.

I would love to read more mature heroines, sidekicks, and mentors. It's time art imitates life!

Barb Goffman said...

I've had seven short stories with female protagonists age fifty or older published. Another one is coming in September. I'm grateful I haven't run into any ageist issues when trying to sell my stories. Older people often (though not always) see more shades of gray than younger ones, which can make for more nuanced and interesting characters.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thank you to everyone for taking time to comment.

Annette, I look forward to hearing more about your new series. Love reading about Zoe.

Margaret, I've heard Hank talk about the difficulty in writing about older female protagonists. I always look forward to reading your short stories.

Grace and KM, I agree. Surely publishers have statistics about mature women consumers.

Mary/Liz, I agree on both points!

Warren, great examples!

Gloria, I love your books. You continue to be a great inspiration.

E.B. and Jim, I'm interested in character, too. Age isn't important if the action and motivation is intriguing. And, Seamus' mom is a terrific character!

Kait, you make a great point about films being able to convey more through facial expression.

Barb, that is wonderful news. I always enjoy your stories. Keep those older female protagonists coming!